We’ve lost one of our best

Update to the post below

Some days are more trying than others. For me, today has been about as tough as it gets.

I had just left the funeral of Elaine Sortino, the softball coach at UMass who I became good friends with when I took the job in Amherst, only to find out my dear friend Rick “R.J.” Corman had passed away after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He was 58.

The first person Ellen and I met when I took the job at the University of Kentucky was Rick Corman. He sent his plane to Memphis to pick us up and take us back to Lexington for our introduction. He was on the plane with us, and we spent the next hour and a half talking about anything other than basketball. He made it very clear from the start that he knew nothing about the sport.  My wife instantly loved him.

Over the next couple of years, Rick became my brother. He was an unbelievable supporter of my family and someone I could always go to if I needed help. Anytime we got together, very rarely did we talk about basketball. When he came to practice, he was the only guy I let come in with a red shirt on. If you know anything about him, his whole company is based on being red.

Rick was the owner of a multimillion-dollar railroad and construction company, but he will be remembered for much more than that. As I got to know him, I was blown away by how much he cared for the people around him. I’ve never met anyone who cared more for his workers, his family and his friends. Everything he did with his business was to make sure that he took care of every individual, from the people at the head of his company to the people who had their feet on the ground and make the company run. Nothing was outside the realm if it was going to make it better for his people.

Rick Corman was the first person John Calipari met on his way to Lexington to become UK’s next basketball coach. (photo by Britney McIntosh, UK Athletics)

Rick’s attention to detail was absolutely ridiculous, which is why his company was so successful. You never saw a dirty truck or a piece of garbage on his watch. Everything was manicured and built to withstand the test of time. Whoever looked at Rick’s business and met with Rick always left saying, “Wow, this is a first-class guy and a first-class company.”

Aside from all that, anybody who knows me knows that what impresses me the most is when I see someone who comes from nowhere and not only makes something for himself, but then uses what he’s done to help other people. In a nutshell, that was Rick Corman.

Rick was one of the absolute smartest and most humble people that I have ever met in my life. I’m going to miss him dearly. He knows now that I love him, that I’m going to miss him and that I’m going to pray for him every day.

Rest in peace, my dear friend.


 Aug. 26 update

I appreciate the feedback from my post on Rick Corman on Friday. There are so many emotions and thoughts that go through your head when you lose someone you care about and someone you shared a lot of memories with. For me, Rick was one of those people.

It meant a lot to me to read and hear that so many of you shared similar experiences with Rick and had the same things to say about him. Whether you were a friend of his or a complete stranger, everyone seemed to share a positive experience with him. That’s just the type of person he was.

After going to his viewing on Sunday and having a little more time to collect myself, I had a few more thoughts I wanted to share with everyone about Rick.

There are some of us who were born on third base who think we’ve accomplished something when we run to home plate. When I look at how blessed I am to not only coach basketball but to do it at the University of Kentucky, sometimes I feel that way. I’ve worked hard to get to where I am, but I’ve also been fortunate.

Rick, on the other hand, started outside the stadium. He was the guy selling hot dogs. He not only got inside the stadium, he rounded the bases, touched home, and ended up owning the stadium and the team. It’s amazing where he came from.

Rick was diagnosed with multiple myeloma more than 10 years ago. He had one of the worst forms of cancer you could have, and yet he fought it for more than a decade while growing his company exponentially. Think about what he would have been able to do as a cancer-free man.

I asked him this question more than once: “Why don’t you just sell your company? You have cancer. You may not have that long. You don’t need to be doing all this. Sell your company.” His comment was always: “I don’t know what someone else would do with my people.” He was offered hundreds and hundreds of millions of dollars but he would always turn it down because he was too worried about and too invested in his employees.

I always said I would never wear red, but in honor of my friend, I’m going to wear a Rick Corman red jacket to one or more games this season. It’s the second color I said I would never wear but ended up doing (brown was the other), but I promise I will never wear orange. Oh, and it won’t be for the Louisville game either.